Sunroom Renovation – Week 1

For three weeks in June, our house was a flurry of activity. Chris (our general contractor) and his crew – Adam and Corey – arrived early each morning and were hard at work by 8am. Additional skilled tradespeople arrived as needed for specific tasks (e.g. electrical), and Chris oversaw and was accountable for all of their work. Here’s how things unfolded, broken down by week.

They started by tarping off our living room and putting up plywood on the sunroom side. This kept our house protected and prevented me from constantly watching the crew work, which they probably appreciated. It also meant that everyone had to come and go from the sunroom via a ladder!

By 10:30am the first window was out.

By 1:30pm the south wall was gone and they had started on the other windows.

Here’s the view at 2:30pm.

And by 3:30pm we had a fully open front porch.

With so many people working from home because of COVID-19, our house became the primary source of neighborhood entertainment. In the days that followed, Jarrod and I regularly climbed a ladder to sit out here and talk to neighbors about the project, which was really fun. Some people asked if we considered keeping it open – that answer is no. We use this space every single day we’re home, which wouldn’t be possible if it were open: Chicago has a lot of weather.

Moving along, I think most contractors would have called that a successful Day 1, but the crew pushed on and began demo of the ceiling.

Remember that wasp nest we got a peek at in this post?

This is what it looked like from the other side – unoccupied, phew!

We uncovered another one on the north side of the room.

I posted this photo on Instagram and someone said they initially thought it was sourdough bread, which is definitely a more common sighting in 2020.

On Day 2, Adam dove into leveling the floor.

The slope of the floor varied throughout the room, so each shim had to be custom-cut – they were nearly 3 inches in some spots, and super thin elsewhere.

This was slow, detailed work (and thus $$$) for something that no one will ever notice, but I’m glad to have it fixed.

On Day 3, Chris encouraged me to have the paint removed from the limestone sills. Since it was a last-minute decision, grinding/sanding was the only option – not chemicals. It was very dusty!

To be honest, I should have prepared for this sooner, but I half-forgot / was half-paralyzed with indecision – it was definitely something I wanted done, but I had previously hesitated on how to proceed. This was an example of when having a well-connected general contractor came in handy: he was able to get a masonry contractor onsite that day.

Here’s Chris, planning out the framing for the front window installation.

By the end of the week, a level subfloor was installed, the porch roof was jacked up, the windows had been delivered to our garage, and the framing lumber had been delivered to the front porch.

Woof, that was a lot of work for 3 days! And a lot of words for one blog post. This feels like a good stopping point – I’ll document weeks 2 and 3 in separate posts.

Let’s Get Into Our Sunroom Renovation

Ooof, I’ll be honest: it is hard to dive back into this blog when I have such a backlog of updates to share with you! When I let things pile up like this, it creates a daunting hurdle. This is a champagne problem, however, because the good news is our sunroom and window renovation is FINISHED.

I’m relieved to report that everything went as smoothly as one could hope for such a big, complicated project – thanks in large part to our contractor’s hard work (Mizener Construction). As a reminder, I detailed my window decisions and budget back in March. Here’s where we started:

We chose to postpone the start of our project until Chicago entered Phase 3 of our COVID-19 reopening plan. It was go-time in June. A few days before the crew I arrived, I got to work on DIY demo. Emptying the sunroom reminded me how terribly proportioned the windows were for the space.

Demoing the paneling reminded me of our home inspector’s mantra: “You’re not allowed to ask ‘Why?’” I discovered the whole room was covered in two layers of paneling, seemingly installed at the same time.

I expected the ceiling tiles to put up a fight, but they came down with the slightest touch.

I chose not to attempt to salvage the original beadboard ceiling: it was full of nails and covered in construction adhesive.

Here’s the state of the room when I handed it over to Chris (our GC) and his crew on June 10.

I’m going to break up the subsequent phases into separate posts, to keep them manageable for me and digestible for you. I’m sharing my bloggin’ plan so it keeps me accountable for sticking with it. We’re going to start by focusing on the sunroom. This week I hope to share four more posts (one a day, whoa), covering:

  • Our general contractor’s work
  • The painting and floor finishing work that came next
  • The DIY work I did to take the sunroom over the finish line
  • And, finally, the finished room!

Then I’ll circle back and share details on things you’ll see in the reveal post, including a plant bench I built, wall sconces I hacked, and solar shades I spent one million dollars on. After that, we’ll travel to the dining room and our bedroom, which also have new windows and lots of other new things since you’ve seen them last.

So, we’re looking at 8-10 posts over the next month or so! I hope I don’t pull a muscle, or get a stress fracture like that one time in 2018 I tried jogging…

In closing, here’s a sneak peek of where we’re headed.

Sunroom Renovation Plans

In my last post, I detailed my window decisions. Now it’s time to get into the rest of our plans and the budget [gulp].

Hiring a contractor

In August, I posted on Instagram about needing a contractor who is skilled with window installation. A college friend messaged me to say “My folks got their windows done and were happy with the contractor, and my dad is truly a fastidious basketcase.” SOLD. She referred me to CKM/Mizener Construction, whose website says “The joy of a cheap price passes quickly. The sorrow of poor quality lingers on and on.” DOUBLE SOLD.

I’ve had several in-depth conversations with Chris (the lead contractor) and Paul (the superintendent) over the past months and I am thoroughly smitten. I’ve never immediately clicked with a contractor like I have with them: we see eye to eye, they understand my goals and my concerns, and we respect each other and this old house. Chris has already spent many hours onsite and gone through countless rounds with our window supplier to get all the details nailed down. Here’s a drawing Chris made on my wall to illustrate some window sill and moulding choices.

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Header beam – womp, womp

Installing a continuous run of windows requires major structural integrity. It’s a 20′ opening.

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In order to know what we were getting into in the sunroom – and to get accurate labor quotes – I demoed some sections of the sunroom paneling ahead of Chris coming out for final measurements.

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I assumed our existing header “beam” was solid, but we learned that is not the case: it’s a hollow trough formed by three boards.

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We have to install a Parallam beam across the sunroom’s west wall. That added significant labor to our plans. I’m grateful we found out before starting work and I’m glad to have hired a contractor with the skills to tackle this.

All the things

Bringing my sunroom plans to life is a major undertaking: we are essentially rebuilding the entire room. In addition to installing the new windows, we will:

  • Thoroughly demo the room – the ceiling, paneling, framing, etc. is all coming out
  • Install the Parallam header
  • Spray insulation onto the ceiling and brick walls
  • Install two new outlets
  • Install new drywall – though there won’t be much of it, because the room will be predominantly windows!
  • Shim the floor and install new subfloor so it’s level – there is currently a significant slope to shed rainwater because, again, it used to be an exterior porch
  • Install new oak floors and stain them to match the hardwood in the living room
  • Install trim around the new windows
  • Install a new wood beadboard ceiling

The sunroom ceiling is currently dilapidated insulation tile that is glued over the original beadboard ceiling. It was rotting in one corner and I pulled away the tile to find an old wasp nest!

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Timeline

The windows will take 3-4 weeks to manufacture and ship. The job will take 2-3 weeks all totaled. Fingers crossed, we’ll be finished by the end of April.

Cost – gird your loins

The 16 Marvin windows (3 in the bedroom, 3 in the dining room, and 10 in the sunroom) cost ~$17k. Labor and materials are estimated to run ~$26k. I’ll do a full budget breakdown once everything is finished, but I wanted to go ahead and get the $43k number out there now so we can all absorb the shock and recover from it. I’ve been saving for over two years for this, and I am willingly paying more for a perfectionist. Cutting open the front of our house is not a time to skimp.

Oh, and I’m also getting a new roof installed on the house and garage. That will cost an additional ~$10k. We’re currently figuring out the timeline re: having it done before or after the window installation.

Oh, and I’m also getting our brick tuckpointing repaired in several areas around the house where it’s failing. That will cost an additional ~$1,400. Hauslermo is getting the works in 2020!

DIY and cost-cutting

To save money where I can, I will be doing some DIY: demo prep, painting the new sunroom walls and ceiling, installing the sunroom baseboard and crown moulding, and installing the trim around the dining room and master bedroom windows. (Given the size of the sunroom window expanse, I’m having the crew do that trim work, but I can handle the other rooms.)

I also decided not to install new windows in the stairwell and guest bedroom during this renovation phase. It’s my hope we can order and install those windows by the end of the year, but I didn’t want to commit all of my project funds from the outset. The side benefit of this is that our entire house won’t turn into our construction zone.

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So, that’s where we stand currently: a partially disassembled sunroom, awaiting windows, and equal parts excited and barfing about what we’re undertaking. I’ll keep you posted here and on Instagram!

Bungalow Window Decision Making

New windows for Hauslermo are officially a go! I’ve signed a contract with a general contractor I’m super excited about, finalized my sunroom renovation plans, and pulled the trigger on the window order. I have a lot to say on these topics, so I’m going to break it up into two posts. Let’s start by talking at length, ad nauseam, about windows.

Why I’m replacing our windows

Our existing windows are cheap white vinyl, installed sometime in the 1990s. Aesthetically, they’re a poor match for a 1913 bungalow. I want wood on the interior; metal on the exterior. Functionally, they’re starting to fail – for example, the dining room crank-out casement windows fall of their track frequently, and we have to go outside to push them shut.

I’ve known ever since when we bought the house that I would want to remove the walls of our sunroom (originally an exterior porch) and install new windows across the front. That’s what this bungalow wants, and that’s what this bungalow is going to get. As a reminder, here’s what it looks like now:

Bungalow Window Before 1

And here’s approximately what it will look like after – although they won’t be white!

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It will be a major improvement for our house’s appearance, both inside and out, and I can’t wait to get more daylight into our living room.

Window manufacturer selection

The three big options for our region are Marvin, Pella, and Andersen. I got quotes for Marvin’s Signature Ultimate series (via Next Door & Window as well as direct from Midwest Window & Door), Pella’s Architect series (via a Pella supplier), and Andersen’s 400 series (via Home Depot).

I wish I could share helpful numbers with you, but it’s impossible to compare apples to apples on the quotes because different companies provide different types of quotes: Home Depot and Next Door bundle all of the windows and the installation costs into one, whereas if you buy direct from a supplier you see the individual window cost and labor is priced out separately. Furthermore, Home Depot only does simple replacement work – they couldn’t quote for the sunroom portion because it requires enlarging the existing window opening.

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If we look only at the dining room – where I’m doing three double-hung windows as mocked up above – I can share some rough numbers to give you an idea of how much the options cost:

  • Anderson 400 including installation = ~$5k
  • Pella Architect excluding installation = ~$3k
  • Marvin Signature Ultimate excluding installation = ~$2,200

Anderson 400 is a cheaper product, but Home Depot’s installation costs are steep. Pella Architect and Marvin Signature Ultimate are both high-end products and are comparable in cost, but the latter is a better value, in my opinion. I decided to go with Marvin Signature Ultimate because they are widely regarded to be the highest quality. Here’s what sold me: Pella uses roll form aluminum cladding, which means it’s a thin metal wrapped around wood, whereas Marvin used extruded aluminum. It’s like a soda can versus a quarter: Marvin’s metal is structural. Unless something unexpected happens, this is our forever house, and I want forever windows.

Once I landed on Marvin, it was time to make 100 other decisions.

Exterior color – Clay vs. Gunmetal

Marvin offers 19 exterior color options. Clay and Gunmetal were my immediate lead contenders.

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I was leaning toward Clay because it’s a subtle earthy color that seemed perfect for a bungalow. But then I chatted with an architect acquaintance who has impeccable taste and makes window decisions regularly for projects. He encouraged me to consider Gunmetal because it will provide more contrast with our brick. Our face brick (the brick on the front sides of the house) is super red. The Clay color couldn’t hold its own against it. Furthermore our common brick (the brick on the back half of the house) is a light tan, and the Clay color disappears against it – they’re far too similar in shade. Gunmetal is a classic dark gray that is strong enough to complement both brick types.

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Here’s a photo of a bungalow in a nearby neighborhood that I love and keep coming back to for inspiration.

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And here’s a lovely bungalow that shows what our window style will look like, generally.

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Other details

The interior wood will be factory-primed and I’ll have them painted white onsite. I selected matte black hardware. I’m doing simulated divided lite with an in-glass spacer bar – I don’t love the stainless steel they show on the Marvin website and was pleased to learn they offer a black option for a small upcharge.

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Excruciatingly exact measurements are required because these windows will be custom-made to fit an existing masonry opening – there’s no wiggle room with brick. There are also lots of other small manufacturing decisions that could make or break the project – brick moulding, mullions, jambs, sills, etc. The shop drawings look like an aeronautics design.

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I wouldn’t know how to make heads or tails of these fine details, so I’m grateful to have found a contractor I trust to get this right. I’ll cover that plus budget and sunroom plans in my next post!

Front Yard Painting and Landscaping

My 2016 exterior blitzkrieg concludes here, in our front yard. When we bought the house, it looked dated and lifeless. The awning darkened the front (both inside and outside), the bushes didn’t offer much curb appeal, and the siding and stucco were in bad need of paint. Oh, and a section of our roof was on the walkway.

house-front

Julian Collins has been our go-to guy for several projects since buying the house. He demoed our basement and hauled it away, he painted our exterior, and he helped us remove this hideous awning. I highly recommend him anytime you need extra muscle – he’s fast, affordable, and insanely hardworking.

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Jarrod and Julian conquered this awning – my contribution was suggesting they use a board to hold it up and push it away. What I lack in muscle I make up for in smarts.

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Removing the awning made a huge difference in our living room and sunroom.

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Our landscapers dug out the bushes in early spring, and then it was time for house painting. (The landscapers took out that dead light post as well, after I had an electrician sever the power connection.)

Front Yard Progress.jpg

I came to a decision on the exterior paint color quickly, which isn’t usually like me! I tried three swatches and had a clear winner: Gunsmith Gray from Benjamin Moore (the bottom swatch). It’s a gray-green; Benjamin Moore calls it a “deep, blackened gray.” The color is from their Williamsburg Collection. The historical vibe works well on our 1913 bungalow: it contrasts the red brick really nicely, and I feel like it adds some much-needed life to the front of the house. The white is off-the-shelf Benjamin Moore white. We used MoorGard Low Lustre Finish in white for the trim, and MoorLife Flat Finish on everything else.

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Julian power washed the exterior and then returned the next day to paint. He charged around $800 for everything: the siding, trim, stucco, and back mudroom. He and a helper knocked it out in a single day, working from early morning until after the sun set.

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When Julian found out I had bought Benjamin Moore Regal Select paint, he said “Thank you, thank you.” Apparently the coverage is significantly better than Behr, which makes his job easier. I definitely noticed the difference in quality when we used it on the garage. So, I’d recommend it and will use it again. If you’re on the north side of Chicago, JC Licht on Irving Park is a great paint store.

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After painting came landscaping. Here’s the plan Monica from Red Stem put together:

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We used all native plants and shrubs, as we did in the backyard. We disconnected our northern gutter downspout from the city sewer system, extended it to the garden area, and buried it so provides water to the garden area. (“DS” in the diagram above – we didn’t end up doing the southern one because we didn’t want to dig under the sidewalk.) This guide was helpful for us as first-time homeowners: Understanding Your Sewer: An Introduction to the Chicago Area’s Combined Sewer Systems. Did you know there are no ninja turtles in Chicago’s sewer system? That’s unique to New York.

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Of all the things we planted, I’m most excited about the multi-stemmed serviceberry tree. It flowers in the spring, produces berries in the summer, and turns bright reddish-orange in the fall. It will grow as tall as our front porch roofline. The cranberry viburnum bushes flower and berry as well, and they’ll grow at least 6 feet tall.

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The Red Stem crew was great. Really nice guys, who shared a meal on our new patio and were so considerate of our yard. I love this photo with Doozy overseeing the job from the window.

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Plants and sedges are interspersed between the bushes. Everything will fill in and fill out in the coming years. I will also replace and enlarge the windows someday with something more bungalow-appropriate (similar to this).

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One last before and after:

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And that is where I’ll leave you for now. I’ll return in early January with a list of everything I hope to tackle in 2017. Happy New Year!